Nicolle Generaux | A&E Editor
March 13, 2022
As the death count for Ukrainian civilians surpasses 750 after only a week of war with Russia, political leaders of Ukraine and the United States have started reporting on potential war crimes committed by Russia’s dictator, Vladimir Putin.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) investigates and, under legal jurisdiction, tries individuals charged with crimes of great concern to the international community, including genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression. Over 123 countries are members of this court, yet some powerful nations such as the United States, Russia, and China are absent. Nonetheless, the ICC has been notified of Russia’s potential war crimes within this past week.
Ukraine and its leaders have accused Russia (specifically Putin) of several war crimes, including attacking a nuclear power plant, the use of outlawed weapons in civilian areas, and targeting civilians.
Russian troops have attacked the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine. Although Russia is now in control of the power plant, there is no extreme damage from the attack, which left the reactors unharmed and under control. Any additional attacks on the plant could cause serious problems, which is why this military action was outlawed in the first place.
Russia has also used unauthorized weapons, including cluster and vacuum bombs, in dense civilian areas. Cluster bombs are a missile that is fired thousands of feet into the air before exploding and releasing smaller bombs that detonate when they hit the ground. These cluster bombs were used by Russia on a Ukrainian preschool earlier this week. Vacuum bombs were also used at Chechnya and on the border of Ukraine. These are bombs that suck in oxygen from surrounding air and generate a powerful explosion, releasing a large pressure wave that destroys an area around the detonation.
Stooping so low as to target civilian populations, Russia has and continues to bomb and destroy apartment buildings, living complexes, office buildings, and schools–including Freedom Square in the eastern city of Kharkiv, the second-largest square in the country.
“You can tell that Putin only cares about his own agenda,” San Clemente High School junior Carissa Johnston said. “Otherwise, he would not continue to put helpless Ukrainian lives in danger.”
This is not the first time Russia has been accused of war crimes in the past decade. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a peninsula labeled as a part of Ukraine. There, evidence of crimes against humanity was found, such as torture, rape, and intentional targeting of citizens. During that time, Russia was still a part of the ICC and an investigation did begin, but was put on hold due to COVID-19. It still has not resumed.
Unfortunately, there is not much the ICC or other countries can do about these war crimes committed by Putin. Since Russia is no longer a part of the ICC, the court does not have jurisdiction to legally investigate Putin–and even if Russia was in the ICC, it is unlikely Putin would willingly let an investigation take place during this war, especially while he is still in power.
Plus, individuals convicted of war crimes are generally commanders in the field that directly make decisions in battle, not political leaders. So, investigating and finding evidence that Putin, a political leader, directly ordered his military to commit war crimes would be difficult in itself.
Although there is no solution at the moment, hopefully the conflict between Russia and Ukraine will die down soon and the ICC can begin a proper investigation of these war crimes.